THE BLOG

What Makes Me A Woman

30/01/2017 13:11

On Wednesday, January 25th, I took part in a BBC Radio 5 Live phone in for Your Call with Nicky Campbell (you can listen again here).

One caller asked a question which, as a cisgender woman, I felt unqualified to answer. As such, I reached out to some members of the trans community who, I felt should be offered the opportunity to address the point.

To paraphrase, the caller commented:

"I would like to know what specifically people mean when they say they identify as a specific gender. I am a woman, I know because of my biology. I have a vagina I have ovaries, I can bear children, that's how I know I am a woman. I would like to know exactly how trans women define themselves as women in the absence of biology. Anecdotally, it seems to be: they like pink, they like to wear dresses, they don't feel comfortable with their bodies... I am sorry but that does not make you a woman."

Here are some of the responses I received:

Jenny-Anne Bishop OBE is Chairperson and Joint Founder of TransForum, Manchester

"The suggestion that the caller makes is that it is ONLY her biology that makes her a woman, that she is a woman BECAUSE she 'has a vagina, and ovaries' or can 'bear children'. Does that mean that women born without such organs, who have them removed, or cannot bear children, are not women?

"Trans women are women, they just got there by an unconventional route. Gender identity is not about your physical sex or the clothes you wear but an innate sense of who you are.

"The medical profession has tried - and failed - for over 100 years to change the brains of trans people, in a bid to make their gender identity congruent with their body. Most clinicians now agree that the best solution is to realign people's bodies to more closely match their gender identity, not the other way around."

Jane Fae, feminist and writer on issues of political and sexual liberty.

"To define people is to set boundaries, to tell them that they belong in a box. This is a concept which feminists throughout history have fought hard against and yet, in a bid to distance themselves from trans women, it seems that some feminists are prepared to reinstate the notion that being a woman is something that can be defined and constrained biologically.

"In terms of knowing how I am a woman, I know because I have a fundamental and persistent sense of being part of that category. Everything else - what I wear, how I speak, even my body - is simply an attribute and a personal preference: the way that I, as a woman, decide to express my gender. It does not define it."

"Society tends to follow the notion that things are either A or not A, human beings are more complex than that - they can be more than one thing at once. The notion of definition needs to be removed from the debate. We are all individuals and it is how we chose to express that individuality that makes us human."

Sarah Lennox, children's author and co-founder of AllAboutTrans

"Being transgender should not be seen as an attempt to invalidate or diminish womanhood (or indeed manhood) any more than being gay should be seen as an attempt to diminish heterosexuality - they are just different experiences deserving equal acceptance and respect.

"Science cannot fully explain the experience of being trans. The suggestion that seems most likely is a neurological difference in the same way as dyslexia or left-handedness. It is a very real feeling which has been known in every culture throughout history.

"One does not need to understand it to simply accept that it is. The fact is no trans people can explain why they feel as they do. How do you explain why you are left-handed? You just are."

I would love to hear more people share their experiences of being a woman, join in the debate below in the comments section or on twitter using the hashtag #whatmakesmeawoman.

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